By Matt Popchock
The biggest story of Saturday was not just the surprise demise of No. 4 seed and AAAA-Sec. 2 champion Woodland Hills, a team that had the potential to make some noise this postseason, but the bizarre events leading up to the dismissal of the Wolverines by No. 13 seed Peters Township in boys’ Class AAAA competition.
First of all, the game, scheduled for a noon tip at California University, started about 45 minutes late because the Woodland Hills team bus erroneously went to IUP. Second of all, Gabe Pritz paced the Indians with 30 points in their 67-56 upset, but he sure didn’t leave the Convocation Center feeling like a winner. He had to get stitches after taking a punch from Woodland Hills’ leading scorer, Cincinnati football recruit Shakim Alonzo.
Speaking from experience, my immediate reaction upon hearing this story was as follows: a Peters Township player dropped an N-bomb in the general direction of Alonzo, who took it personally. Sadly, it appears my first instinct might have been correct.
Alonzo claims he was targeting a different player with the punch that crippled Pritz, and for that very reason. To the credit of Mike Decker, Alonzo’s head coach, Decker did not condone what his star senior did.
Peters Township head coach Gary Goga, one of the more colorful men in the WPIAL, was even less forgiving.
The WPIAL will hold a hearing on the matter, and now there is a possibility charges may be filed against Alonzo by the campus police.
What’s sad is the way this episode overshadows a terrific game by Pritz, one of the best step-up performances we’ve seen in the WPIAL Basketball Championships so far. What’s even sadder is the notion that some of us in western Pennsylvania haven’t learned from one of the most globally embarrassing periods in our nation’s history.
I’m confident whatever punishment the school gives Alonzo will be just, and young men of color everywhere need to be taught the example set by Jackie Robinson, a flag-bearer for future generations of black athletes: that real courage means not fighting back. Having said that, would anyone really be surprised if Alonzo’s side of the story were true, and by that same token, wouldn’t the reaction of a teenager under those circumstances be at least understandable, if not forgivable?
Two wrongs don’t make a right. But if it is determined by the WPIAL that racial epithets were hurled at Alonzo prior to him hurling his fist, those who provoked him don’t deserve a free pass either.
Meanwhile, the boys’ and girls’ tournaments resume Tuesday with the conclusion of the First Round. In Class AAA top seed New Castle begins its quest for its first boys’ basketball title since the Red Hurricane’s dynastic run in Quad-A 1997-99 when it takes on Highlands Tuesday night at 8:00. Highlands rallied to defeat Southmoreland 56-48 in a Preliminary Round contest at Gateway High School Friday:
This one is going to be all about guard play. Highlands senior and Drake recruit Micah Mason, the district’s all-time leader in career three-pointers, ranks among the top twenty scorers in WPIAL history, but he hasn’t gotten much help from his supporting cast this season. That changed Friday, when three others reached double digits, and the Golden Rams gutted one out despite a rare scoreless first half by Mason, who eventually ended with 18.
Nevertheless, it’s hard to imagine them stopping the dynamic backcourt duo of Corey Eggleston and Shawn Anderson. The New Castle cousins joined the 1,000-career-point club this season, and the undefeated Red Hurricane led the entire WPIAL with 81.4 points per game. My guess is, head coach Ralph Blundo throws a diamond-and-one, or some other junk defense, at Mason, the regular-season district scoring leader with 29.1 points per game, and his mates simply won’t be able to keep pace.
Another interesting contest on that side of the boys’ bracket is the 8:00 matchup between South Fayette, last year’s WPIAL runner-up, and Beaver Tuesday night. The teams boast identical 16-6 overall records, and while Beaver had the least scored-upon defense in its section, South Fayette entered the playoffs yielding just 43.3 points per game, the fewest in the classification.
I’m predicting a relatively well-played game won by the Lions, and if Keystone Oaks can hold serve against Trinity Tuesday, that would set up an interesting challenge for South Fayette’s defense in the Class AAA Quarterfinals Friday. The Golden Eagles are led by Rocco Constristano, who finished third among WPIAL boys with 24.1 points per game during the regular season.
In girls’ Quad-A, my eye is on the First Round meeting between North Allegheny and visiting Bethel Park Tuesday night at 6:30, though the concurrent First Round contest between Pine-Richland and visiting Plum should also be fun to watch.
N.A. ranked fourth in the classification during the regular season with 58.7 points per game, while Bethel, which gave up just 48.7 a night, is one of the top five teams in Class AAAA defensively. I say the Tigers live to face top seed and section rival Oakland Catholic in what could be a terrific quarterfinal matchup Friday, but the Black Hawks will make them work for it.
Pine-Richland and Plum enter the playoffs with each coming off a 14-8 regular season finish, and both squads have limped their way into this game. The Rams have been very inconsistent, while the Mustangs have seen a five-game win streak interrupted by two season-ending losses. Still, the individual battle between Emily Johanson of P-R and Krista Pietropola of Plum, each of whom averages 17 points a game, is fascinating, and given the recent wackiness on that side of the bracket, I’ll take Plum in an upset.
Furthermore, I foresee a couple upsets in girls’ Class AA: Keystone Oaks over Deer Lakes, and Avonworth over Bentworth. Keep a vigilant eye on Lauren Mayernik, the Lady Lopes’ leading scorer at 23.5 points per game.
Those games tip off at Canon-McMillan and Moon Area High Schools, respectively, Tuesday at 6:30.
(Follow me on Twitter: twitter.com/mpopchock)